An Insider’s Look At SMX Advanced: Matt Van Wagner

We often get asked how we pull together our Search Marketing Expo conferences. We strive to make things look effortless, but in reality there’s a lot that goes into organizing an SMX event. To get the logistics right, we hold weekly meetings with our operations staff, relentlessly assuring that all details that make a great experience for attendees are taken care of. Our sales team works closely with sponsors to bring the exhibit hall to life. Our marketing staff works hard to get the word out.

And once we’ve developed an agenda for a show, we tap into the knowledge and expertise of a key group of people to help organize speakers for the event: Our SMX conference programming team. Each individual panel has a coordinator who is in charge of selecting speakers and establishing the session format, making sure that attendees get a session that is well orchestrated. In addition to Danny Sullivan and I, this year’s SMX Advanced programming team consists of Alex Bennert, Chris Elwell, Vanessa Fox, Rae Hoffman, Jeffrey K. Rohrs, Michelle Robbins, Greg Sterling and Matt Van Wagner.

To give you a foretaste of the upcoming SMX Advanced and the exciting speakers and content we’ve assembled, we thought it would be interesting to go “behind the scenes” and offer insider views from the all-stars who make up the SMX programming team. First up: Matt Van Wagner, president of Find Me Faster, a Nashua, New Hampshire search marketing firm.

How long have you been working in search? What do you do? And is it also true you sing opera?

mattvanwagner Matt Van Wagner: I’ve been in search marketing about 8 years; our company concentrates on paid search. Yes, I’ve been singing tenor with a regional opera company for the past six seasons, appearing mostly as unnamed village peasants, but with the occasional comprimario role. Sadly, that company closed this spring, a victim of these tough economic times, but I keep busy as a soloist here and there, and in fact, I’m preparing for a recital next month.

What sessions are you moderating at SMX Advanced?

I’m really fired up about this particular SMX and think we are fielding our strongest roster of speakers and sessions. We’ve had good SMX shows before, but I truly think this is going to be the best one yet.

The sessions I’m moderating are Google Quality Score, Under The Microscope, Amazing PPC Tactics and Writing Killer Ad Copy, The Interactive Edition.

The Google Quality score session will feature some great and provocative data analysis regarding Quality Score. Because Quality Score is a black box, and no one really knows what goes inside, the best we can do is to make observations, run tests, and come to conclusions about it. Our speakers will share their own recent research (some of it is quite stunning), walk us through their observations and suggest some conclusions and implications for managing PPC campaigns. The Q&A should be lively. I am expecting that well get challenges to our data, our conclusions and test methodologies. The more lively the better, and hopefully everyone will walk away with new perspectives about Quality Score.

In the Amazing PPC Tactics session, we are attempting to create a paid search version of the ever-popular SMX Advanced “Give it Up” sessions, where top professionals take a few minutes each to discuss and demonstrate their favorite advanced and not-widely-known tactics. We had a ton of great speaker proposals for this session, out of which we chose the five best and freshest ideas.

The session I am most looking forward to personally is “Writing Killer Ad Copy: The Interactive Edition.” It’s going to be a lively, interactive, whole-body copy-writing session that will equip attendees with tricks to operate better “inside the box” and how to jump outside—the-box to stimulate new creativity and much better ad copy.

Can you share one of the amazing PPC tactics with us now, or a tip for writing ad copy?

[Pause....] Well, there are some really good ones, and I don’t want to steal anyone’s thunder from their presentations, but…

How would you like to figure out a competitor’s Quality Score? Wouldn’t that be interesting data to have?

How about a demonstration of how to build your own semi-automated bid management system using common tools you have in your office, like Excel?

And thats just the tip of the iceberg.

What do you look for when coordinating a live event like SMX Advanced?

I try to hold to a particular ideal when selecting speakers and presentations for SMX Advanced. I make a point of looking at speaker pitches as the primary determinant, so that newcomers have as much chance to present as experienced speakers, not for the sake of democracy, per se, but so that we have a constant infusion of bright new ideas. It’s the power of the ideas, not the personalities that make these sessions most effective. So I try to get people who are putting out new ideas to keep us on the cutting edge. If you just pick the same people for each conference, it’s easy for things to go stale. We are always on the lookout for the new emerging stars of search.

What do you get out of going to a live conference?

Two things: First, the structured activities like the sessions and exhibits where new tips and tricks are professionally presented. Second, the unstructured social events, where you learn amazing things—starting right after the second cocktail. SMX has such a strong sense of collegiality. I always feel, and I think most other SMXers also feel, that we all part of a generous community of professionals willing to freely share what they know to help each other.

What do you enjoy most about coordinating and moderating an SMX Advanced session?

I feel a sense of honor and privilege to work with the SMX Team. Really. It’s like playing with the Celtics. OK, if that’s too much for you, let’s just say that I love that I get to see the trends that are going on and get exposed to all the new, fresh ideas that are out there.

In terms of SMX Advanced, I like that we can assume people are coming in at a certain level so you can immediately start the conversation at a higher and deeper level. That makes my job challenging in some ways, easier in others.

Thanks very much, Matt. Looking forward to seeing you at SMX Advanced!

More Insider Looks At SMX Advanced From The Programming Team

Related Topics: Channel: Industry | SEM Industry: Conferences | Top News


About The Author: (@CJSherman) is a Founding Editor of and President of Searchwise LLC, a Boulder Colorado based Web consulting firm. He also programs and co-chairs the Search Marketing Expo - SMX conference series.

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